In 2014, LA County Sheriffs Department (LASD) swapped out their Beretta 92F’s for the Smith & Wesson M&P9; from a handgun with an external safety and an 11.5 pound initial trigger pull, to a handgun without an external safety and a consistent 6.5 pound trigger pull. The County purchased some 6100 M&P’s in all. The Office of Inspector General County of Los Angeles has just released a report on the change entitled Assessing the Rise in Unintended Discharges Following the Sheriff’s Department’s Conversion to a New Handgun. According to the OIG’s Executive Summary . . .
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD or Department) personnel. The information suggested that the recent adoption of a new standard issue pistol that was not equipped with an external manual safety had led to a steep rise in unintended discharges. The OIG, therefore, began a review that analyzed the introduction, training and performance record of the new handgun in the LASD to determine whether there was indeed a rise in unintended discharges, their likely causes, and any promising remedies suggested by the facts. We found a sharp increase in unintended tactical discharges putting officers and the public at risk.
Even without reading the 52-page report, TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia could not doubt tell the OIG both the causes and cure for the rise in “tactical” negligent discharges (NDs) – from three in 2012 to 19 in 2014. Our AI would finger poor training (so so speak). And guess what? They’d be right! All of the ND’s involved deputies pulling the trigger at the wrong time! Imagine that. Here’s the breakdown:
The report’s Executive Summary says the number of “non-tactical unintended discharges have remained roughly constant.” Yet a chart reveals that “non-tactical” ND’s increased from 13 in 2012 to 31 in 2014. None of the ND’s resulted in injury to the general public.The OIG admits that the data upon which it relied upon to prepare its report was not entirely reliable. “The process of review by memorandum was inadequate to assess the responsibility of individual deputies for unintended discharges and to identify an emerging Department-wide issue.” What are the odds that a number of LASD ND’s went unreported? By the same token, the descriptions of ND’s in the OIG’s report don’t give readers much confidence in officer selection and training.
– A deputy was taking his pistol out of the trunk of his patrol car when he unintentionally depressed the trigger.
- A deputy reached into a locker to remove an M&P belonging to his partner. He thought he was grabbing the grip and light grip switch when, in fact, one finger was on the trigger and the gun fired.
– A deputy was in a locker room getting ready to go into the field. His holster and tactical vest were hanging on the locker door. While he was placing his M&P pistol into the holster, the antennae from his radio, which was in a vest pouch, entered the trigger guard, caught on the trigger and a round discharged.
- A deputy intended to activate the light with a grip switch to check if it was working but instead unintentionally discharged one round.
- A deputy was inexplicably directing traffic with the weapon-mounted light rather than with a flashlight as trained by the LASD. The deputy discharged one round while doing so. This gun light did not have a grip switch attached.
As the top chart above indicates, the LASD suffered four flashlight-related tactical ND’s involving the Surefire X300 Ultra flashlights in 2014. They accounted for 32 percent of all tactical ND’s. The guns purchased by LA County (at $625 for the firearm and flashlight system) included an optional pressure grip activation switch. The OIG report goes into detail about the dangers of the switch, including the fact that the Denver Police Department banned their use after two fatal flashlight-related ND’s. Dangers that were ignored by the LASD.
In fact, when it was lobbying for the conversion from the Beretta to the Smith & Wesson handgun, the LA County Sheriff’s Department argued that “No training costs are required as the current handgun mounted light training certification only requires watching a thirty minute department video via the internet. This training video can be watched during the course of a normal shift.” That changed . . .
The OIG’s report pegs the officers’ total training time on the new weapon at eight hours. The Executive Summary admits that “few agencies consider that amount sufficient. Deputies received an unspecified amount of classroom training on low light tactics and use of the gun-mounted light, and two hours of low-light outdoor training.
During low light training, attendees were taught to activate the weapon light using their non-gun hand to flip the toggle switch on the light itself or to use the DG pressure lever along the front of the hand grip, if they had purchased this additional mechanism.
Instructors made several references to the ease and reliability of the grip switch mechanism and recommended, for those attendees who already had it on their guns, to activate the grip switch while drawing the pistol out of its holster, so as to make this action an automatic part of the gun draw process and eliminate a potentially distracting decision-making process at some later time in the incident.
“They were warned to only use the weapon light in potential deadly force encounters and to use their separate handheld flashlight for other illumination purposes.” Clearly, that didn’t happen in several instances. Regardless, the OIG concluded that “the initial conversion process was well thought out, challenging and appeared adequately staffed.”
The training did not include force-on-force training – the only way to prepare officers to use their safety-less M&P and SureFire flashlight-equipped system under stress. Despite the OIG’s attaboy, the report states that “Conversion training is insufficient to overcome old habits.” Specifically . . .
Employees who may have worked with the Beretta 92F for twenty years are sent home with a new handgun and a gun light after four hours of live fire training where they have had to rapidly acquire new skills. It is very difficult to determine whether a specific aspect of training has been incorporated by the trainee sufficiently to show up reliably months or years later when circumstances may call for it. This is especially true of shooting-related training because most sworn personnel fire their weapons at suspects extremely rarely if at all during their careers.
In this regard, given the dramatic rise in unintended discharges, tracking the increase in the number of sworn employees who have converted from their prior firearm to the M&P may currently provide the best available feedback on whether the conversion training is effective as the LASD does not have pre-set follow-up training for use of the M&P pistol, let alone the gun-mounted light in night time conditions.
The graph above shows the penalty meted out to officers who created an ND. The OIG report says that none of these officers received firearms re-training, and recommends that the practice become mandatory.
The OIG report proves that the LASD failed to properly equip, train and discipline its deputies in regards to their firearms. This is a nationwide problem that should be addressed by a thorough review of firearms training by every police force in the country. Improvements should include increasing the amount of training and improving its quality. By shining a light on the LASD’s failure during the switch to M&P handguns, the OIG makes that point perfectly clear.